My local library system has reopened for pick up in the past couple weeks and Kingdom of the Blind was the first of my holds from way back in March to come in (and why I’m christening this book my No Money square for bingo in celebration of all things library). I was excited to see it, I love Louise Penny’s way of crafting story but unsure how much death and destruction I was in the mood for. I decided to give American Kingpin a read first to gauge my mood and decided that I was in fact ready to revisit Inspector Gamache and company.
In classic Gamache tradition Penny is building on the events of the past, in this case leaning heavily on A Great Reckoning and Glass Houses the immediate predecessors of this book. Amelia Choquet, whom we met in A Great Reckoning is back and we find Gamache, Isabelle Lacoste, and Jean-Guy Beauvoir in dramatically effected circumstances due to the final actions in Glass Houses. Penny often tries on new structural elements in her writing with each book, but this time it’s a return to form, using various story threads to balance each other out and leave the reader wondering, sometimes just a paragraph or two before returning them back to action in progress.
Kingdom of the Blind is at its core dueling stories – the hunt for the drugs that had been released in Glass Houses and the unraveling of why Myrna and Armand have been asked to be executors in a stranger’s will with a third man, and eventually the investigation of the death of one of the heirs. The will and murder plotline held my interest just fine and were typical Gamache territory. But, the hunt for the missing drugs plotline rubbed me the wrong way on two counts. First, character motivations didn’t make sense until a large reveal late in the book which did nothing for the overall reading experience. Penny needed the characters not to know something, but that didn’t mean that the reader shouldn’t. Instead we spend nearly 400 pages with a character acting very out of character. The second is that Penny used terminology in referring to transgender individuals that was not acceptable to me as the reader and while she did have Gamache correct misgendering as it happened, she still used a derogatory term far more often than needed and in a manner which falls into the worse kinds of stereotypes about transgender people and sex workers.
Separate from that complaint, which is not a small one, I was generally enamored of the book. I care very much about the inhabitants of Three Pines and the members of the Sûreté, and Penny balances the two worlds and moves plots ahead for some characters and lets us revisit some in a more status quo, always moving from one to another. But my heart is sad about the possible departure of Jean-Guy and Annie with little Honore to Paris. I have had a particular soft spot for this secondary storyline since very early on and will miss them terribly if they are really leaving.
There is so much backstory that feeds each new novel that I can’t rightly tell you to read this one if you haven’t read its predecessors, but I can emphatically tell you that if you like murder mysteries (and sometimes other kinds of mysteries) that ruminate on the human spirit than these books are for you and go pick up Still Life at your earliest convenience.
Bingo Square: No Money!